Yellowstone National Park
I grew up imagining Yellowstone Park from images I had seen on The Wonderful World of Disney and Yogi Bear cartoons. In more recent years I've spent a lot of time studying a large framed print that Don and I acquired. It's a painting of the original "Old House" with its steep, gabled roof. Less than two months ago, I finally got to lay my eyes on the real thing.
We arrived about 4 pm and the grounds were bustling with tourists. The eight fluttering flags on the roof seemed to add to the giddy atmosphere. The Old Faithful geyser was already sputtering and teasing a crowd that gathered on the walkway. When the geyser finally erupted, there were cheers and cameras clicking and I had to remind myself this was real and I wasn't at Disney World. There's one piece of drama that we didn't get to see. We were 67 years too late to see the geyser illuminated at night. They removed the "searchlights" from the roof walk in 1948.
I had to wait till late at night to get a picture of the red doors opening to an empty lobby. I wish I had also gotten a photo of the crowds earlier. It was quite a sight to see the lobby floor, buzzing with guests, holding luggage handles or cups of coffee or ice-cream cones... all looking upward.
Enjoying Every Angle
After checking in, Don and I couldn't stop wandering. We had to view the interior from every level and angle.
I had seen photos before, so I knew about the impressive 7-story interior. But I felt like a little kid, gasping at the sight of Santa for the first time. How is it possible that a 29 year old man designed this? And how is it possible that they had the knowledge and equipment to start building such a structure in 1903?
Eight Hearths and a Clock!
And there were 4 large hearths on each face of the chimney, with 4 more tiny ones at the corners! (Enough space for every child-guest to hang a Christmas stocking!) Only 2 of the original 8 hearths still operate, but the original custom ironwork clock still tics and tocs.
Love Them Stairs!
We did a lot of stair climbing, looking for the best views and best seats. The crooked railings and swooping banisters were just comical. I could picture Yogi and BooBoo sliding down that polished wood! Actually, many of the logs were once covered in bark. I wonder how much bark was peeled off by curious kids... or banister riders?
Don and I tried out rockers and cozy leather sofas on both of the levels of balconies. Peering down over the railing, it felt like we were in an old opera house watching a show of people below. Actually, later that night we did see a "show". We sat near the clock's hypnotic pendulum and enjoyed the sound of music coming from a piano tucked into a corner across from us. It was late and there were mostly empty chairs. It almost felt like a private concert. Then the performer, closed her piano and took out a cello. She moved to a chair by the railing and ended her performance with the most beautiful piece, that I vaguely recognized. The lovely sound was dreamlike as it floated into the open space. She finished and Don and I raised our hands high to clap. Others in different areas of the lodge joined in.
So Much to Study
Early and late when there were fewer people to watch, we still found much to study while sitting in those fabulous chairs. The whimsical supports and beams were constantly reminding me... "Yes, wood comes from trees." You can't forget that. It's hard to imagine how many trees were cut down to make this lodge, yet how wonderful to see the character of each tree revealing itself, with all its twists and curves! And look how they clean those endless poles and beams! What a surprise to spot the young man using a towel and rope to dust, where no white glove would ever reach!
breaks from college, 40 years ago. She said she remembered sneaking up there at least once per summer. "...even though we knew we'd be fired if caught."
What About Accommodations?
Original rooms in the "Big House" can cost over $500. 00, if you want a bathroom and view. If only Don and I had known to request one of the rooms along the "loggy" hall downstairs. The hall itself was charming, like a Lincoln Log house! If you're willing to put up with a shared bath down the hall, you can have a room with log walls and some original fixtures and furnishings. Some won't put up with sharing a bath, but I peeked at the Ladies Room and it was classic! They had marble stalls and spacious showers with fancy tile work! I would have gone for that.
Our room was in the west wing, which was added in 1927. The price was almost twice the cost of an old "loggy room" and we had to hike down numerous halls and down a few sets of stairs to get there. There was nothing lodge-like about our remodeled room. It could have been Holiday Inn Express. The space was perfectly okay, with tidy Mission Style (new) furniture and a window looking at trees (and parking lot) We were fine with no phone or TV and we were amused by the stuffed buffalo on the bed. But I would have given up our very mediocre bathroom with shower stall, to have had one of the rooms in the Old House. Next time!
Spending Time... Outside the Room
With a crowded lodge, we were surprised to find open bar stools at the Bear Pit Lounge, with a great view of the etched glass and the carved wood panels. I wish I could have better captured the whimsical animals in the glass. These lively images of dancing moose and a bear squirting seltzer were inspired by the etched wood murals that decorated the original bar, built at the end of prohibition.
This view is from the balcony that looks down on the lobby as well as the dining room. It's also a spot where years ago musicians performed for diners, before they moved to their higher perch, in the Crow's Nest. We looked down and studied the room, hoping our 8:30 reservations would be in the more rustic front room, not the back addition.
We lucked out and had a great table with a view of the bar's etched glass and the fireplace with the Old Geyser painting.
Love the Plate!
I ordered rotini with parmesan, mushrooms and vegetables. Don went for some bison bratwurst, pheasant & chicken sausage with sauerkraut. All was pretty tasty and the old plate design made it extra fun. When we finished dining, the room was quiet enough to share the cookbook with Christoph. He didn't roll his eyes at my Baby Boomer Nostalgia. He was actually delighted and showed other servers... who were playfully, happy to pose!
The Great Outdoors!
It's important to focus on the outside as much as the inside at Old Faithful! The laziest, most decadent way to enjoy the outside is from the observation terrace. The deck gets jammed when crowds want a view of the erupting geyser. But it was perfect before sunset, with a glass of wine. ..
lodge so we saw windows open and curtains fluttering. We also got to watch the flags being removed from upper walkway. I wanted to run up and see if they needed help!
Views Old Faithful
The rows of rigid benches were filled during dramatic Old Faithful eruptions. It was a nice elevated view, but we preferred to be down on the ground...
With the Crowds
This photo doesn't even capture the immense size of the crowd. It was pretty amusing listening to the voices rise and fall each time the geyser faked a big display, then fizzled. "Oh come on baby, you can do it!" One elderly woman encouraged.
But the absolute best time for viewing was at sunrise, when the air was still and chilly. The sun made the geyser look like it had caught fire. Once again I was brought back to a childhood memory. I half expected to see the image of "The "Great and Powerful Oz" appear behind that steaming flame!
More Steam... and Critters
We wandered the wooden walkways on the grounds that next morning. There were such dramatic images of steam and clouds and eerie morning light. But the biggest treat was spotting some furry friends enjoying the morning with us.
Two coyotes trotted through the grass not far from us. One coyote must have read the same sign we read, that warned us about the thin crust that covers the boiling springs and scalding mud. A dozen people have been killed. Mr. Coyote climbed onto the wood path and seemed to be content playing it safe, like us. The lone buffalo across the Firehole River, wandered a bit, then napped comfortably.
Good-Bye Geysers and Lodge
I was delighted to be able to conclude, the lodge was as charming as the old picture I've been staring at for years. We had a less than a 24-hour experience, but that was enough time to observe the lodge from different angles and at different times of day. The Contrast! That's what I'll always remember. I was sort of amused by the carnival atmosphere when busloads of tourists filled the lobby and grounds at peak hours. But I adored the peaceful wee hours, viewing the historic inn without distraction. Only then could I really imagine 1904, with long dresses and steamer trunks, the hats and cigars... How lucky we could actually enjoy a little of both.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!